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With his debut story collection, Raphael Bob-Waksberg is trying to mend your heart

Image: Rebecca Fassola

This time is different; I promise you it’s different. Why would I lie to you? Why would I want to hurt you? This time there is no snake waiting. This time things are going to be wonderful.

You might say that, as the creator and one of the writers of the sublimely funny—and sad—BoJack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg had already compiled several collections of short stories years before the release of Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory. His literary exploration of love and loss is certainly as cogent, incisive, and gut-wrenching as any season of BoJack. But wherever he honed it, Bob-Waksberg’s mastery of episodic storytelling, along with an uncanny knack for tragicomedy, is on full display in his debut collection. Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory inspires as many belly laughs and crying jags as it does moments of searing clarity.

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The thoughtful order of the stories creates a loose sense of chronology—not by following the same characters from entry to entry, but rather by witnessing dozens of unrelated characters go through the cycles of affection. Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory opens with the promise made by a romantic prospect scouting out another romantic prospect in “Salted Circus Cashews, Swear To God” that’s referenced above. Soon after, a few lifetimes of possibilities fly by in the course of a train ride in “Missed Connection—m4w,” followed by “A Most Blessed And Auspicious Occasion” and some of the most outlandish wedding planning ever. There are more emotional highs, lows, and plateaus throughout, which the pithy mini-anthologies of stories like “The Serial Monogamist’s Guide To Important New York City Landmarks” and “Lunch With The Person Who Dumped You” encompass.

As with his series, Bob-Waksberg explores the human psyche through the surreal, using offbeat stories to reveal truths about our relationships with ourselves, each other, and even our pets. (You didn’t really think this latest series from Bob-Waksberg would be bereft of animals, did you?) The flights of fancy are all grounded by real emotions; real disappointments, real victories. He experiments in everything from form—including laconic lists of the lies we tell to keep each other happy (or oblivious) to recounting a romantic non-starter in verse—to typesetting, the font size of the first entry scaling down with a would-be couple’s nerves and sense of certainty. While the collection is primarily preoccupied with romance, the author also looks at other types of love, including familial love (on “The More You That You Already Are,” the collection closer with a sci-fi element). One of the most moving stories in the book, “Rufus,” doesn’t center around intrahuman dynamics at all, but still communicates so much about unconditional love and the courage and strength needed to offer it.

Bob-Waksberg’s evocative prose opens up strange new realms and familiar sites of drudgery alike, as in “The More You That You Already Are” and “The Average Of All Things,” but it is devastatingly effective when taking us on a journey inward. The line blurs between your own experience and those of the characters’, whether dealing with future in-laws or realizing that the sadness that was with you before you met The One will always be there. The darkly funny “Lunch With The Person Who Dumped You” treats the aftermath of a breakup like a game show—spin the wheel for a chance to sit down with the person who broke your heart and still leave with some dignity! But just when you think that catharsis will come from venting your spleen a bit, relief actually comes from being laid bare:

“You can put to rest the fear that you were a blip in this other person’s life, a footnote. What you did was important. You hurt somebody, and somebody hurt you.”

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There’s a cumulative effect to Bob-Waksberg’s TV work and short story writing; just like a gag about colanders can lead to a last-minute rescue (and an even better gag) or a brief moment of grandstanding can lead to a character’s undoing, the undercurrent of optimism running through Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory eventually becomes the dominant narrative. Here are 18 reminders that not all loss is tragic, not all love is all-consuming, and not every happy ending lasts forever; and these truths are more comforting than any fairy tale.

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